Star Fox has always been one of Nintendo’s most iconic franchises. Pleasing the hardcore gamer with its intense arcade score-attack gameplay and a memorable cast of characters, possibly the most quotable of any game characters, ever. Saying that, it’s been a while since our last real outing in the Lylat system, 10 years in fact if you don’t count the 64 remake on the 3DS. So how has Star Fox changed in the last decade? Well, not that much to be honest.
If you wasn’t aware of Star Fox Zero’s pretence of being “neither a sequel nor a prequel”, you’d probably be forgiven for thinking it might be a highly enhanced remake of 64. The story is practically the same: Andross, a mad scientist banished to the planet venom, has begun invading the Lylat system. The Cornerian Army is struggling to cope and so the Star Fox team are called in to save the day.
Does Star Fox Zero tread on already walked on ground too much? Yes. There’s no doubting they could have had the same gameplay without needing full-on déjà vu in parts. It’s like they heard the fans’ pleas of wanting a “Star Fox just like 64” and took it just a bit too literally. Personally I would have liked a fresher take; visiting new locations, fighting a different threat and a completely unique story.
Unlike 64 however, your first play through of Star Fox Zero is extremely linear and secret exits and alternative paths are almost entirely found after you’ve played through the game once whereby by you unlock upgrades to give you the ability to access them. This may disappoint some who enjoyed the branching paths of the original game and 64, but this wasn’t really an issue for me. Once you complete the main story line for the first time you gain access to Arcade mode which allows you to play through the whole game, alternate paths included, like we all know and love.
Naturally as a Star Fox game, a play through the game from the first planet of Corneria to the last, Venom, won’t take long at all. My first playthrough crept barely over the three-hour mark. No doubt this will ire some gamers out there who expected an expanded experience but this is Star Fox. Can you imagine a drawn out 15 hour campaign? It just wouldn’t work for an on-rails arcade shooter like this which thrives on short but highly memorable levels.
Most of the stages are quite memorable too, even after only playing through them a couple of times each. They’re not all hits but it’s a good ratio in favour of the better ones. Missions are more diverse than ever before, too. You have the standard on rails sections and the usual ‘all-range mode’ which takes an even bigger stage than previously. Then there are the stealth missions in which you need to avoid being detected and more adventure like levels where you use the walker transformation to roam inside enemy bases and flick switches.
Yes, indeed there are transformations in the game and even a whole new vehicle. The Arwing now transforms in to the walker originally created in the ill-fated Star Fox 2. Transformation is as easy as a tap of the A button. The well loved Landmaster also makes its reappearance this time with the ability to transform into the Gravmaster which allows you to fly around for a certain amount of time. A new entry for the series is the Gyrowing which is a helicopter of sorts that can lower a little robot who can go inside smaller spaces and also activate switches. Sadly the Blue Marine doesn’t make a reappearance, but the variety here is definitely enough and the vehicles are all fun to use in their own way.
One of the most controversial aspects of Star Fox Zero is in its new control method. Just the phrase “motion controls” is enough to make certain closed minded gamers wince and sadly Zero won’t be given a fair chance by some. You control your ship in the usual way using the left analogue stick, but aiming is now via the gyro sensors of the gamepad. Even the gamepad screen itself is the cockpit view rather than the third person view of the TV screen (though this can be switched). Aiming feels awkward at first and you’ll constantly be losing your calibration if you always move your hands around like me. A quick click of the left analogue stick will readjust it. Then you have the probably of looking between two screens, one for flying and the other for aiming. Is it a problem? At first, yes, but they are easy to adjust to especially during on-rails sections. During more technical moments during boss fights and in all-range mode it takes longer to get used to them; positioning yourself, dodging enemies, finding your targets and aiming is rather a lot to take in, especially when staring between two screens and constantly needing to readjust your gyro sensors but it will come in time.
One of the nicest options (that I heartily recommend for those struggling) is that you can choose to have the gyro aim only switch on when you’re firing, otherwise it stays in it’s normal position and instantly clicks back in place once you finish firing. It’s much easier to keep track of where you’re aiming, although it does become a little more limited in the more difficult boss fights. To help you keep track of your opponent you can hold the ZL button to lock on to them, which I especially recommend for the dog fights where your rivals are zooming about all over the place.
Are the controls the be all and end all of Star Fox Zero? No not at all. In fact I rather enjoyed them after a few hours and to be honest it’s going to feel rather limited if I go back and play the previous games in the series. It might seem like a wall at first, but that wall is quite scalable.
While a normal playthrough of Zero isn’t particularly difficult, the challenge comes in repeated plays and mastering every stage. Each of the main stages have 5 golden medals (alternate levels have less) to acquire to various methods. Some need to be found or triggered after doing certain things in a level, maybe saving an ally in a tight spot or flying through a special area. Then there’s the most difficult one, getting the required amount of enemy take downs. This is the one that will require practice and a bit of dexterity.
Star Fox Zero is a very accessible game as it can include gamers of all skill levels. If you’re young or inexperienced and fail a stage too many times, you can get access to an invincible mode. As stated previously, the main game is for those with a decent skill level, and the after game challenges are perfect for those wanting a real test. Just about anyone can get enjoyment from it.
A cool aspect for those finding it difficult balancing the flying and shooting is playing the game in co-op. One player uses the gamepad to aim and shoot while the other uses another controller to pilot your vehicle. It’s actually rather fun to be honest. Just make sure you play with someone who vaguely knows what they are doing (i.e. not my other half).
The biggest disappointment for me is the lack of an online multiplayer; something that I thought was nailed on to be part of the game. 4 v 4 online dog fights could and should have been amazing, it’s genuinely surprising and a shame that it’s not been implemented in Star Fox Zero.
Many people had problems with the graphics, but to be honest I quite liked them. They’ve played it safe, for sure, and a more ambitious graphical style could have been awesome. The end product, however, is still nice, bright and clean, something that suits the game’s universe very well.
The music is a little difficult to gauge to be honest. Much of it is drowned out by the radio chatter from the gamepad (we all know those animals like a comment or two once in a while) and the sound effects of the shooting and explosions. From what I can tell the soundtrack is mix of remixes of franchise staples with a few new tracks thrown in. You can’t go wrong with bona fide classics like Star Wolf’s Theme.
Star Fox Zero is a weird combination of playing it a little too safe with the story, mission structures and nods to the 64 game, whilst being incredibly ambitious with its control schemes. You can’t help but wonder if it should have been the other way around. Star Fox Zero is not an essential Wii U game, but it’s still a really good one that can proudly sit on anyone’s game shelf. It’s yet another unique game in the system’s library and a welcome return for Fox McCloud and his team. The controversial control method does take a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes almost second nature. It follows the tropes of previous outings way too much for its own good and could have benefitted from stepping out of the comfort zone a little more. Hopefully playing it safe in this department for the series’ comeback will now give them the platform to do something more with it next time around, hopefully only a couple of years later this time, not a decade.
– Star Fox is back with the same great gameplay
– Variety in vehicles and missions
– Controls are great once you get used to them
– No online multiplayer
– The story and locations are just too close to 64’s